Friday, August 11, 2017

Micro-Watershed Restoration Programs in the Dominican Republic's Yaque del Norte River

By F2F Volunteer Peter Phillips

Micro-watershed that feeds into the Yaque del Norte River system

During June 2017, I spent two weeks in the Dominican Republic with the goal of training Dominican colleagues on themes related to water conservation and water quality. The majority of my assignment was focalized in the Arroyo Gurabo micro-watershed of the Yaque del Norte River in and near the city of Santiago in the Cibao Valley. My host agency was a local NGO, Asociación para el Desarrollo Integral (APEDI), and my faithful guide was Partners of the Americas’ Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) field officer, José Alejandro Almodóvar Gómez.

The Yaque del Norte is the longest river on the island of Hispaniola. Extending for more than 200 km, the river originates in the high mountains of the Cordillera Central of the Dominican Republic and discharges in the northwest of the country not far from Haitian border. Santiago is the second largest city in the country and is located at the midpoint along the Yaque del Norte. In 2004, with support from a Fulbright Scholar program grant, I established a series of water quality sampling stations along the entire length of the Yaque del Norte River and so I was fortunate to have had prior experience in the region and of having established a record of baseline data. The Arroyo Gurabo stream is a major tributary originating in the Cordillera Septentrional, a mountain chain that forms the northern boundary of the Cibao Valley. The stream is formed by a series of springs at about 800 meters in elevation, and eventually discharges into the Yaque del Norte near downtown Santiago.

These springs all receive some sort of protection. At a minimum, the periphery of each is fenced off to protect them from livestock intrusion, at best, they are located in a heavily forested area, but that’s rare in this densely populated region. Descending from the mountains into the city, the stream edge, or the riparian zone, tends to be packed in with marginal communities of very poor residents who have, over time, settled here for lack of a better option. This is a common pattern along most streams running through Santiago.

Generally, residents must discharge their untreated wastewater into the stream. The stream also serves as a garbage dump as evidenced by the accumulation of solid waste ranging from plastics, to paper, to assorted construction debris. During flood events, which are not uncommon, the stream banks are undermined, destroying structures that have been built up over time. The loss of natural vegetation to absorb high water episodes is an endless cycle of stream bed widening that can seem hopeless to control.

However, encouraging signs are evident in unexpected moments and places. For one, I was highly impressed by measures already taken to protect all the spring sources of the Arroyo Gurabo. This was thanks to the consistent efforts by my APEDI colleagues, the managers and trainers of this particular project. Also, I was heartened to observe in my first visit to a marginal community the rapport with which APEDI colleagues interacted with community leaders and the level of understanding that these local leaders had regarding the challenges their communities faced being perched on the edge of the Arroyo Gurabo. In my second week, I was surprised by a visit to a marginal community directly on the banks of the Yaque del Norte that also happened to be my downtown Santiago sampling station from my 2004 research. This community has benefitted from USAID funding and using their own labor had constructed a wastewater collection system for the area. Now, untreated wastewater no longer enters the river, the neighborhood has a hygienic and tidy appearance, undoubtedly public health has improved and there was a very discernible lack of accumulated solid waste throughout the community alleyways and along the riverbank. This community certainly serves as an example to achieve in all Santiago’s marginal communities.

My culminating experience was a full day of dialogue and a water quality workshop well attended by APEDI colleagues and local community leaders from the upper Arroyo Gurabo watershed. I feel that my major contribution was to introduce the idea that inhabitants of the region should expand their vision of preserving water quality and water quantity to satisfy needs of human inhabitants and begin to consider the needs of the entire aquatic ecosystem.


Often, we think of the health of the environment by observing the terrestrial vegetation only and ignoring what’s in the water, what’s below the surface. Perhaps this is because it’s harder to see life in the water than on the land. But if we are good stewards of the land and the water, we will not only have a safe and reliable water supply, but we will have excellent conditions to sustain aquatic plants and animals; animals such as fish, amphibians, and all sorts of invertebrates that are important in the aquatic food web. These two aspects, satisfying human needs for clean fresh water and satisfying the minimum needs of aquatic organisms, are interdependent. One depends on the other. To accomplish this, I suggested that actions be taken to engage children in the activity of monitoring Arroyo Gurabo stream health. This could be accomplished by incorporating stream studies into school curriculum. Take the kids out to the stream and let them have fun. They’ll begin to appreciate their water source in all its aspects and likely train their families to think and take action similarly.


It was a great experience being in the Dominican Republic again after a 12 year absence and I look forward to the possibility of becoming more engaged with the recovery and sustainable management of the Arroyo Gurabo into the future.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Conmemoración del Día Internacional de los Pueblos Indígenas

 Por: Andrés Varona
Coordinador, Programas Agrícolas y Seguridad Alimentaria, Partners of the Americas

Ayer, 8 de Agosto, alrededor del mundo se celebró el Día Internacional de los Pueblos Indígenas. Esta fecha conmemora el día en que la Asamblea General de las Naciones Unidas (ONU) aprobó la Declaración de los Derechos de los Pueblos Indígenas. Desde su incepción en 2007, la declaración ha sido marco universal de normas mínimas para la supervivencia, la dignidad y el bienestar de los pueblos indígenas de planeta. La  aplicación de esta declaración ha alcanzado resultados contundentes para cerrar la brecha entre el reconocimiento formal de los pueblos indígenas y el ejercicio de sus derechos en la práctica, especialmente  con respecto a sus esfuerzos para combatir la exclusión y  la pobreza sistemática de estas comunidades.  Además de la ONU, esta fecha (y el hito que representa) también es conmemorada por diversas agencias federales en Estados Unidos, incluyendo USAID y sus diversas misiones en el exterior. Considerando la importancia de esta declaración, USAID reitera el rol estratégico que los pueblos indígenas ejercen como socios para el desarrollo sostenible y la diversidad cultural de los países donde focaliza su trabajo.

Quetzaltenango, Guatemala: Cooperativas de Mujeres Mayas participan en un taller de manejo integral de plagas (MIP) orientado por Leah Tewksbury, voluntaria del programa F2F.

A través de sus más de 50 años de historia, Partners of the Americas ha trabajado fuertemente para conectar, servir and cambiar vidas en diversas comunidades, incluyendo el mantra de pueblos indígenas que constituye nuestro hemisferio. Con respecto al programa de Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F), iniciativa financiada por USAID, Partners continua implementando numerosos proyectos que avanzan las cadenas de valor de estas comunidades. En el ciclo actual (2013 -2018) del programa F2F, Partners ha mandado a cientos de especialistas agropecuarios estadunidenses para empoderar a estos grupos con el conocimiento, capacidades y herramientas para generar y fortalecer sus propias activadades agrícolas e, consecuentemente, su desarrollo socioeconómico y seguridad alimentaria. En Guatemala, por ejemplo, docenas de voluntarios de F2F han apoyado a cooperativas de mujeres indígenas en diversas áreas de producción orgánica, manejo integrado de plagas (MIP), procesamiento como también mercadeo y branding de productos agrícolas (ej. champiñones, vegetales, frutas). En Colombia, la asistencia de voluntarios F2F está ayudado a transformar quínoa producida por la comunidad Páez en Cauca y comercializandola a los estantes de los supermercados de Whole Foods Market en Estados Unidos. Mientras que en Arajuno y Chuya Yaku, localidades de la Amazonia Ecuatoriana, el apoyo de estos especialistas está fortaleciendo la conservación de los suelos y la producción de chocolate orgánico de estas comunidades quechuas.


Chuya Yaku, Ecuador: Miembros de la Comunidad participan en un entrenamiento sobre producción de chocolate organico.  

Para nosotros en Partners of the Americas es un honor poder trabajar en colaboración mutua con estas diversas comunidades para ser socios de su desarrollo. En los meses y años que vienen, esperamos poder seguir conectando, sirviendo y cambiando vidas en las pueblos indígenas de las Americas y el mundo.  

¡Feliz Día Internacional de los Pueblos Indígenas!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Strengthening rural livelihoods in Guatemala, one avocado at a time

Source: www.frutesa.com
Anyone that has ever dipped a corn chip in guacamole knows just how delicious an avocado can be. Aside of their great taste and rich texture, avocados are jam-packed with vitamins, nutrients and healthy monounsaturated fats. While there are many types of avocados (e.g. Zutano, Choquetee, Hall) that are grown world-wide, most of the avocados consumed in the United States are of the Hass variety. The preference for this variety is due to the fact that Hass avocados can be grown year-around, have a longer shelf life, and contain a nutty flavor that U.S consumers love. In fact, Americans love Hass avocados so much that in 2012 alone they consumed over 810,000 metric tons of them. This volume is roughly three times more of what the United States is able to produce internally, most of which concentrated in the states of California and Florida. Since domestic demand far surpasses domestic production, the U.S must import more than 570,000 metric tons of Hass avocados to satisfy its domestic consumption. As such, much of the Hass avocados consumed in the United States are brought in from Latin American and the Caribbean, mainly from Mexico, Peru, and Chile.


Given the current size of the Hass avocado market in the United States and its future potential for growth, Partners of the Americas’ Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program is actively looking at ways that we can untapped the economic and human capital potential that avocados hold for rural enterprises in Latin America and the Caribbean. As part of our Horticulture Project in Guatemala, we are partnering up with our local host Frutas Tropicales de Guatemala S.A (FRUTESA), in order to support its efforts of commercializing Guatemalan avocados to global markets. In the next coming months, we will be sending a series of Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers to help.

FRUTESA farmers and technicians improve their knowledge and technical skills for producing and harvesting Hass avocados. As part of this work, the volunteer(s) will also lead a series of lectures and technical trainings related to strengthening the quality, safety and phytosanitary standards established by the European and U.S market. Their work will also include various interactive workshops on how to properly clean, sort, package, and transport Hass avocados bound for international markets.

We hope that with F2F support, FRUTESA will have the capacity to keep scaling its avocado export operations and, in turn, support income-generating and skill-building opportunities for the small and medium-sized farms that linked to their growing value chain. We will be sure to keep our readers updated as these efforts in Guatemala take root.